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Injuries have played huge role in Texas A&M football team's 2022 season

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Texas A&M safety Demani Richardson had high aspirations when he returned for this season instead of opting for the NFL draft.

Expectations of ending his college career at a New Year’s Six bowl game or even in the College Football Playoff have faded into him trying to help the Aggies end a six-game losing streak.

A&M (3-7) will play a nonconference game against Massachusetts at 11 a.m. Saturday and end the season next week against LSU, needing to beat one of them to end the program’s worst losing streak since 1972.

Richardson, who will be among 16 seniors honored before Saturday’s game, hasn’t had time to reflect on his roller-coaster college career and the upcoming final two games at Kyle Field.

“I’ve just been thinking about finishing the season, just playing hard and just finishing the season with my brothers and just going out there and playing hard each and every week,” Richardson said.

Richardson has been the team’s most dependable player, making 41 career starts, including 24 straight — both team highs with no other player even close. He’s leaned on that experience during the losing streak to lead a team that relies heavily on underclassmen.

“I’ve never really lost like this,” Richardson said.

The four-star recruit from Waxahachie tore the meniscus in his left knee in the third game of his senior season in high school. He watched from the sidelines as the Indians lost their next seven games, finishing 1-9. It was the school’s worst season since 1965.

“I lost like this my senior year, but I wasn’t really part of it,” Richardson said.

He’s been part of every A&M loss, from the shocking 17-14 setback to the Sun Belt Conference’s Appalachian State to last week’s 13-10 loss to Auburn in which A&M started three sophomores and 10 freshmen, eight of them true freshmen. Those underclassmen were part of recruiting classes ranked eighth and first nationally. They came to A&M to compete for championships, not to have the Southeastern Conference’s worst record at 1-6.

Just two years ago, Richardson helped the Aggies go 9-1 and finish the season ranked fourth in the country, the program’s highest finish since the 1939 national championship. If A&M doesn’t win again this season, it will be the school’s worst record since 1970.

“It makes you realize everything always won’t be good. Sometimes it’s going to be hard times,” Richardson said. “So you’re going to have to push through it. It gets like that in life sometimes, so it’s a good life lesson.”

That lesson has been even harder for wide receiver/kick returner Ainias Smith and cornerback Myles Jones.

Smith, who also opted not to leave for the NFL after his junior season, was the offense’s top utility player, a hard matchup for defenses because of his versatility. He suffered a season-ending injury in the 23-21 victory over Arkansas on Sept. 24 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and A&M has missed his big-play potential and on-field leadership since.

Jones opted to return for a super senior season after playing in only two games last year because of a leg injury. The graduate ended up playing only a few snaps against Arkansas, unable to regain the form that allowed him to start 30 games.

Injuries have cost other Aggie seniors playing time this year.

Senior cornerback Brian George played in only five games before suffering a season-ending injury. Senior linebacker Andre White Jr. also missed five games with an injury, and senior tight end Max Wright missed the first two games with an injury and didn’t fully recover until later this season.

The only players among the nine being honored Saturday on A&M’s Senior Day who weren’t limited this season by injuries are linebacker Chris Russell Jr., deep-snapper/12th Man Connor Choate, running back Earnest Crownover and wide receiver Jalen Preston.

A&M went into the season with 12 scholarship seniors, but place-kicker Caden Davis, wide receiver Chase Lane and punter Nik Constantinou plan on returning.

“Anytime you don’t have a lot of seniors, it does hurt. I’m going to say that,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And I don’t know if you’ll ever have tons of seniors anymore [because of the transfer portal]. I hope so. I hope you can start keeping guys around.”

A&M started three seniors against Auburn last week — Russell, Wright and Richardson.

“It’s like the older players get, the smarter they see the coaches are in how to do things and the way to do things,” Fisher said. “So you always love to have seniors.”

A&M’s injuries haven’t been confined to its seniors.

Junior quarterback Max Johnson fractured a bone in his throwing hand after replacing sophomore Haynes King, who returned to the starting lineup before getting hurt and being replaced by true freshman Connor Weigman. A&M’s also lost sophomore center Bryce Foster and sophomore guards Aki Ogunbiyi and Jordan Spasojevic-Moko to injury. Junior running back Devon Achane, who has 887 yards rushing, wore a protective boot for last week’s game. Sophomore defensive lineman Fadil Diggs started eight games before suffering a season-ending injury, and Lane has missed the last two games.

Along with injuries, A&M has dealt with suspensions, including a quartet of true freshmen twice with four of them repeat offenders. Defensive back Denver Harris, defensive lineman Anthony Lucas, wide receiver Chris Marshall and offensive lineman P.J. Williams will miss their fourth straight game this week.

Fans now are concerned some of those prized underclassmen might opt to transfer before they become upperclassmen.

“No matter where you go, it’s always about the process,” Richardson said. “So don’t always expect something to happen right away if you transfer — things that you expect are going to happen won’t happen. You always have to work. Work is always the first key to everything. So as long as you put in the work and grind and just really work, you will get what you want.”

NOTES — A&M is expected to honor seven walk-ons Saturday — junior wide receiver Ryan Campbell, senior defensive back Kyle Fitzgerald, junior defensive back Cade Garcia, junior place-kicker Alan Guerrieri, sophomore defensive back Avery Hughes, junior running back Bladen Reaves and graduate defensive back Alex Zettler. ... Former A&M football player Sammy O’Brient died at age 57 on Thursday, his family confirmed. O’Brient graduated from Alief Elsik in 1984 and signed with A&M as one of Texas’ top recruits. He played nose guard and earned All-Southwest Conference honors as junior and senior.

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